Gareth Bale scored on his return to the Real Madrid starting line-up for the first time in a month as the European champions beat Rayo Vallecano 5-1.
Barcelona remain just two points behind the league leaders thanks to two assists from Luis Suarez as they came from behind to snap a two-game losing streak in La Liga with a 2-1 win at Almeria. Bale took just nine minutes to make his mark as he slid in to turn home Toni Kroos’s low cross before Sergio Ramos’s fortunate looping effort doubled Madrid’s lead.
An awful attempted backpass from James Rodriguez gave Rayo hope just before half-time as Alberto Bueno reduced the arrears, but Kroos restored the hosts’ two-goal advantage with his first goal for the club. Karim Benzema added a fourth before Cristiano Ronaldo registered his 23rd goal of the season thanks to some generous goalkeeping from Cristian Alvarez.
A pelvic muscle injury had kept Bale on the sidelines for five games prior to his return as a second-half substitute against Liverpool in midweek, and there were positive signs for Welsh boss Chris Coleman as he looked back to his best ahead of his country’s crucial UEFA EURO 2016 qualifiers against Belgium and Israel.
Bale was on hand to prod home the opener from close range after a neat one-two between Kroos and Ronaldo as Madrid started brightly. Ronaldo then uncharacteristically blazed over from inside the area and Alvarez did well to turn a curling effort from Rodriguez wide. However, from the resulting corner Ramos made it 2-0 when the ball fortunately ricocheted off his thigh into the top corner.
Rayo were gifted a reward for their neat possession football two minutes before the break, though, as Rodriguez passed the ball straight to Leo Baptistao and the on-loan Atletico Madrid striker squared for Bueno to slot into an empty net. Baptistao thought he had brought Rayo level ten minutes into the second period, but the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside call and within seconds Madrid had put the game to bed.
Ronaldo cut the ball back for Kroos 25 yards from goal and the German FIFA World Cup™ winner bent home his first goal for the club with a low precise finish. Four minutes later it was 4-1 as Benzema turned home Ronaldo’s miscued shot. Bale was denied a sensational second of the night when Alvarez turned his thunderous volley onto the bar, but the ‘keeper undid his good work when he allowed Ronaldo’s weak effort through his body to round off a 13th consecutive victory in all competitions for Madrid.
Barça edge Almeria on the road
Earlier, Barça were bailed out by a superb second-half performance by Suarez after he and Neymar had been left on the bench by boss Luis Enrique as he made five changes from the side that defeated Ajax 2-0 in midweek. Yet, despite his team’s reaction after the break, Enrique was less than impressed by their display.
“The second-half was better for the ambition and attitude shown by the players rather than for good football,” he said. “To have a good season, though, you have to win even when you don’t play well in games like today.”
The visitors were caught out eight minutes before half-time as Lionel Messi lost possession deep inside the Almeria half and with one pass Barça were undone as Fernando Soriano released Thievy Bifouma and he raced past Marc Bartra before calmly slotting past Bravo. Enrique had seen enough in the first 45 minutes and swiftly introduced Suarez and Neymar for Munir El Haddadi and Pedro Rodriguez at the break. It took 15 minutes for the substitutes to make an impact as Suarez acrobatically volleyed against the bar at the back post from a corner.
Suarez was the creator when Barça did eventually level as he turned his marker just inside the area and squared for Neymar to turn the ball home via a deflection off Ximo Navarro 18 minutes from time. The Uruguayan was inches away from his first Barça goal moments later as he spun and sent a low shot just beyond Martinez’s far post.
Suarez then teed up Messi who sent another looping header off the crossbar as the pressure from the Catalans continued.
And they found the winner eight minutes from the end when after another burst from Suarez down the right he picked out the late arriving Alba from left-back to bundle home his first goal of the season.
In the day’s other matches, Getafe and Elche and Celta Vigo and Granada both played to goalless draws, while a late Nordin Amrabat goal helped Malaga beat Eibar 2-1 at home.